"A useful, informative study, particularly to historians not well acquainted with French colonial history. . . . [It] will probably be the authoritative narrative of the events surrounding Fort Caroline’s brief existence."—Gayle K. Brunelle, California State University, Fullerton
John McGrath offers a careful reconstruction of the dramatic fate of the expeditions that attempted to plant a permanent French presence on North America's eastern seaboard during the 1560s--the first full treatment of these events from the French perspective. This campaign became one of the most stunning defeats in the history of European colonialism when Spanish commander Pedro Menéndez de Avilés destroyed France’s Fort Caroline and its relief fleet during the late summer and fall of 1565.
McGrath analyzes and reconstructs events as the French and the Spaniards tried to outmaneuver and outguess each other. The fatal weakness of the French ultimately turned out to be the inability of their leaders, especially Jean Ribault, to carry out orders--not, as most historians have claimed, that French designs were poorly conceived. By comparison, the decisiveness, ingenuity, and extraordinary leadership of Menéndez enabled him to defeat his rivals in the face of extreme adversity.
Until now, McGrath argues, this story has been told either inaccurately or incompletely. By scrutinizing written testimonies left by participants on both sides, he re-creates the conditions and perspectives of the actors involved and reevaluates how and why they made the crucial decisions that ended in such a bloody tragedy. Claiming that this initiative was far from a hopeless cause, he demonstrates that the French came tantalizingly close to wresting the east coast of North America from Spanish imperial control.
John T. McGrath, assistant professor of social science at Boston University’s College of General Studies, has written numerous articles on French and French colonial history.